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To the Best of Our Knowledge: Why Do We Love Sad Songs?

Written by: Jim Fleming
Length: 52 mins

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Publisher's Summary

In this hour, why do we love sad songs? It’s true, we do, and it’s not just “Greensleeves” and “Yesterday.” There’s a language of melancholy worth exploring. The saddest music of all to many people is Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” Thomas Larson is the author of The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and he tells Anne Strainchamps how it earns that name.

Then, sad songs are just part of the story. Anyone who has suffered a broken heart knows the satisfaction of listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Paul McCartney singing “Yesterday.” According to psychologist Meagan Curtis, the inherent sadness of the minor third is what we hear in music. She tells Steve Paulson that a recent study suggests it is also what we hear in speech.

Next, there are sad songs in rock, and sad songs in jazz, but the resting place for the saddest songs is clearly in country music. There are so many we just didn’t how to choose, so we put the question to the foremost historian of country music in America, Bill Malone. He tells Steve Paulson a thing or two about sad country music.

And finally, no matter what genre you’re writing for, adding a cello can increase the melancholy. It’s true now, and it was true a couple of centuries ago when J.S. Bach was writing his suites for unaccompanied cello. Journalist Eric Siblin had written about rock for years, but he tells Jim Fleming about his discovery of Bach, and how he came to write The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece. [Broadcast Date: November 18, 2011]

(P) and ©2011 Wisconsin Public Radio

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